`Cas­hand-cuts' bud­get ad­vances

Leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees pass mea­sure by mar­gins so nar­row it's un­clear if bills will suc­ceed

Tulsa World - - Front Page - By Randy Kre­hbiel and Bar­bara Hobe­rock

OK­LA­HOMA CITY — Leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees on Tues­day passed a mea­sure de­signed to shore up the ail­ing state bud­get, but by mar­gins so nar­row its ul­ti­mate fate re­mains in ques­tion.

Meet­ing sep­a­rately, the House and Se­nate Joint Com­mit­tee on Ap­pro­pri­a­tions and Bud­get nar­rowly passed House Bill 1019, a “cash-and-cuts” patch on a $215 mil­lion hole in the cur­rent fis­cal year bud­get.

The count was 17-13 in the House and 7-5 in the Se­nate.

The so-called “Plan B,” brought out af­ter a pack­age of

new rev­enue and teacher raises failed to get the re­quired three-fourths ma­jor­ity in the House last week, cuts spend­ing by $59 mil­lion, uses $60.2 mil­lion from re­volv­ing funds and $46.3 mil­lion in re­serve and car­ry­over cash. It also projects $48 mil­lion in new rev­enue by rais­ing from 4 to 7 per­cent the gross pro­duc­tion tax on “legacy wells” al­ready sched­uled to go to the stan­dard 7 per­cent rate over the next 18 months.

The cur­rent spe­cial ses­sion, now in its eighth week, be­came nec­es­sary when the Ok­la­homa Supreme Court ruled law­mak­ers last ses­sion il­le­gally passed a $1.50-apack tax on cig­a­rettes dur­ing the reg­u­lar spring ses­sion.

Tues­day's votes leave the be­lea­guered Leg­is­la­ture on track to pos­si­bly bring the spe­cial ses­sion to a close this week. HB 1019 is ex­pected to be on the House floor on Wed­nes­day, and, if it sur­vives, in the Se­nate on Fri­day.

Ap­pro­pri­a­tions to most state agen­cies would be re­duced 2.44 per­cent on an an­nu­al­ized ba­sis. House A&B Chair­man Kevin Wal­lace, RWell­ston, ac­knowl­edged that will trans­late to about 3.6 per­cent for the rest of the bud­get year be­cause agen­cies will have to con­cen­trate 12 months of re­duc­tions into the fi­nal seven months of the bud­get year.

While higher ed­u­ca­tion is pro­jected to take a 2.24 per­cent cut, it amounts to slightly more than $17 mil­lion due to the large size of the state ap­pro­pri­a­tion. The next largest cut would be $15 mil­lion to the Ok­la­homa Health Care Au­thor­ity, the state's Med­i­caid agency. Be­cause of the OHCA's size, that re­duc­tion amounts to only 1.46 per­cent.

Se­na­tors used the dis­cus­sion and de­bate on the bill to crit­i­cize the House's in­abil­ity to pass the rev­enue-rais­ing mea­sure last week.

“We were elected to do a whole lot bet­ter than this, and I am not do­ing it,” said Sen. Greg McCort­ney, R-Ada, whose dis­trict in­cludes East Cen­tral Univer­sity. McCort­ney said law­mak­ers needed to stay longer to craft a bet­ter plan.

Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Chair­woman Kim David, R-Porter, said sug­ges­tions by some House mem­bers that state agen­cies are sit­ting on cash or that au­dits would re­veal ad­di­tional dol­lars make a “great sound bite” but are not true.

“I have yet to find any agency with bun­dles of cash sit­ting around,” David said.

House com­mit­tee mem­bers voiced con­cerns about cuts to higher ed­u­ca­tion and tak­ing $30 mil­lion from a fund set aside for county roads and bridges.

“Is this money go­ing to take away from our county com­mis­sion­ers' abil­ity to main­tain roads and bridges?” asked Rep. John Ben­nett, R-Sallisaw.

Wal­lace David

Wal­lace said it would not be­cause main­te­nance is funded through other sources. Un­der ques­tion­ing from Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, how­ever, Wal­lace said us­ing the $30 mil­lion will prob­a­bly mean the so-called CIRB fund will be­gin the next fis­cal year with a lower bal­ance.

Russ said some county com­mis­sion­ers are con­cerned the fund will be short in out­ly­ing years be­cause of raids on it for op­er­at­ing cash.

Wal­lace said the fund has a cur­rent bal­ance of $209 mil­lion and ex­pects rev­enue from ear­marked taxes of $93 mil­lion, for a to­tal of $302 mil­lion. Wal­lace said cur­rent and ex­pected en­cum­brances are not ex­pected to ex­ceed $265 mil­lion.

Rep. Jason Dun­ning­ton, D-Ok­la­homa City, pointed out this year's higher ed­u­ca­tion ap­pro­pri­a­tion will be the low­est since 1999, while Rep. Chad Cald­well, R-Enid, said he is con­cerned the cuts to higher ed­u­ca­tion will af­fect the pop­u­lar con­cur­rent en­roll­ment pro­gram that al­lows high school stu­dents to en­roll in col­lege cour­ses at greatly re­duced tu­ition.

Sev­eral law­mak­ers said HB 1019 will only make the next reg­u­lar ses­sion more dif­fi­cult, with a start­ing deficit of as much as $650 mil­lion pro­jected.

“If we take this money out now with­out solv­ing this, aren't we kick­ing the can down the road, and the road is about to come to an end?” asked Rep. Pat Own­bey, R-Ard­more.

Rep. Les­lie Os­born, RMus­tang, ripped House lead­er­ship for, she said, “or­ches­trat­ing” last week's rev­enue bill fail­ure.

“We are truly at a precipice we can't come back from,” she said.

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